year in review
This year wasn't the fresh start most Americans hoped for after 2020. But in some of what felt like the worst of times (cough, February winter storm), Austinites never ceased to bring us some of the most interesting, engaging and touching stories that we at Austonia are so lucky to tell.
In chronological order, here are some of my favorite stories we published this year.
1. 'It feels surreal': Austin vaccine recipients feel relief, and guilt, as they get their shots (Jan. 20)'It feels surreal': Austin vaccine recipients feel relief, and guilt, as they get their shots(Tom Madison)
Heading into the New Year everyone has access to vaccines but this time last year very few had access to them. Emma Freer spoke with healthcare workers, first responders and COVID-vulnerable individuals, who were some of the first Austinites to get a vaccine. They shared their feelings of relief and excitement but also expressed feeling bittersweet since so many others were in need of protection at the time.
2. Snow Angels: Local residents help one another during winter storm (Feb. 18)
They say the best blaze burns the brightest when circumstances are at their worst. During February's historic winter storm, Austinites came together to help their neighbors in various ways. Leslee Bassman wrote about various Austinites from all walks of life who donated food, firewood and spent hours pulling stuck cars out of snow.
3. North vs. South: The 'Yuppies' and 'Bubbas' of Austin are divided by more than Lady Bird Lake (May 21)North vs. South: The 'Yuppies' and 'Bubbas' of Austin are divided by more than Lady Bird Lake
In this one, Claire Partain revived the story on a longtime feud between North and South Austin. While it may not be an active rivalry today, the two regions still have a lot of the characteristics from their heyday, while also mirroring each other in different ways.
4. It's 'Shot Girl Summer,' and Austin's dating scene is heating back up (June 7)
Months into the vaccine rollout, Austinites hit the dating scene again. Claire Partain spoke to active daters about "Hot/Shot/Vaxxed Girl Summer." Austnities expressed that they were desperate for in-person dating, even if it didn't feel as natural anymore.
5. One month after opening up, Austin FC's Q2 Stadium is the biggest party in Austin (July 16)
It was a big year for sports fans as Austin's first major league team kicked off its season. No matter the scoreboard, Austinites filled Q2 stadium every game. The supporters' section was a party and half each game with chants and lots of beer.
6. 'I can't sleep': Austinite says he breaks into tears thinking of family stuck in Afghanistan (Aug. 16)'I can't sleep': Austinite says he breaks into tears thinking of family stuck in Afghanistan
Talk about heartbreaking. As the world watched the Taliban regain control of Afghanistan, it hit even harder for those in Austin with family in Kabul. Laura Figi spoke with Haroon Abassy, a seven-year Austin resident from Afghanistan. He spoke of not being able to sleep knowing his family and friends were stuck in Kabul.
7. Behind the beef: Greg Casar and Matt Mackowiak take years-long feud into congressional race (Nov. 17)Behind the beef: Greg Casar and Matt Mackowiak take years-long feud into congressional race
Two people remained at the forefront of Austin politics this year: Council Member Greg Casar and Save Austin Now co-founder Matt Mackowiak. The two have been at it for years now standing on opposite sides of issues such as the homeless camping ban and defunding the police. Claire Partain dives into the origins of this feud and where it will go next as Casar runs for congressional office.
8. Before 'boomtown': For better or worse, Austin's nickname 'Silicon Hills' may be here to stay (Nov. 22)Before 'boomtown': For better or worse, Austin's nickname 'Silicon Hills' may be here to stay
In another major techy year for Austin, Andrea Guzmán dove into if Austin should be nicknamed Silicon Hills. There is some backlash from people who hope Austin doesn't become what many companies are leaving behind in Silicon Valley, though some have been more accepting of the name, such as the founder of Silicon Hills News.
9. Austintonio? Austin and San Antonio getting closer to forming metroplex that rivals DFW (Dec. 8)Wedged in between Austin and San Antonio, the city of San Marcos has seen immense growth in the past few decades as the area slowly molds into a metroplex. (Greater San Marcos Partnership/Facebook)
As Central Texas booms, Claire Partain explores the possibility in which it becomes the next DFW—Austintonio. Central Texas earned a reputation as one of the fastest-growing hubs in the country throughout the mid-2010s as newcomers from near and far flocked and real estate prices soared. With lots of smaller cities dotting the path between Austin and San Antonio, leaders say there's still a long way to go in infrastructure before Austintonio can become reality.
10. Who is Gen Z? Zoomers flock to Austin, ditching their 9-5 in pursuit of passion (Dec. 14)Who is Gen Z? Zoomers flock to Austin, ditching their 9-5 in pursuit of passion
They're not just thinking about TikTok—they're changing the status quo. Austin has become the perfect place for Gen Z to make bank off their passions, instead of going for the average 9-5 job. Claire Partain spoke with local 20-something-year-olds about their individual paths.
Here's to 2022!
Despite reduced car trips and work from home as a result of the pandemic, traffic deaths are continuing to rise beyond the five-year record hit in 2020.
Like last year, officials are citing speeding, risky behavior on the roadways and changes in travel behavior for the 120 crash fatalities in 2021. This is the highest death toll on roadways recorded since at least 2012, stemming from 111 crashes total, according to the Austin Police Department.
Accidents this year included when former Westlake football champ Jackson Coker was killed in a single-car rollover crash in March, when a five-car collision killed one and injured three people in November, and accidents where people report “escaping death” on U.S. Hwy. 290.
Austonia spoke with Police Chief Joseph Chacon and Austin Transportation Department transportation planner Joel Meyer on the next steps for ensuring safety while behind the wheel.
Behind the numbers
It’s not just Austin that is seeing more fatal crashes on the roads—increased wrecks and deaths are part of a nationwide trend. In October, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 2021 showed the highest six-month increase ever recorded in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System’s history and the highest projected number of deaths since 2006.
Though fatalities have risen a little more than 27% when compared to last year, the causes of the accidents remain constant: increased speeding, impaired or distracted driving and failure to yield. Meyer said the Austin Transportation Department initially expected that less traffic would lead to fewer crashes, and it has to an extent, but the wrecks that ensue tend to be deadlier.
“We think it has something to do with the changes in travel patterns that have been happening these last couple of years,” Meyer said. “Fewer people on the streets, fewer trips or less traffic has actually led to more opportunities to speed, which is the number one contributing factor to those severe crashes.”
On top of that, Austin’s rapid growth isn’t helping, as Meyer said major roadways near burgeoning areas like Parmer Lane, Dessau Road and South Congress are starting to see a rise in accidents.
To combat the increased danger on the streets, the City's Vision Zero, a strategic program declaring traffic deaths as a preventable issue that combines safer street design, is targeting law enforcement, evidence-based public policy, public engagement and community participation.
The City has also implemented leading pedestrian intervals, also called pedestrian head starts, to give people on foot extra time to cross the street in 110 high traffic intersections downtown. Meyer said they found a “pretty significant” reduction in pedestrian crashes involving left-turning vehicles and right-turning vehicles.
Vision Zero mapped out the fatal crashes highest-crash roadways in the city. (Vision Zero
According to Chacon, APD takes a more educational approach to safe driving by teaching “the Three E’s,” which are education, engineering and enforcement.
Officers try to educate drivers on the importance of heeding laws like wearing seatbelts, minding speed limits and not driving under the influence. The police force also tries to narrow down which streets or intersections could use upgraded engineering to avoid crashes. Finally, the enforcement piece reminds drivers that there are consequences for breaking the law.
“One of the things that makes the whole program effective is there has to be a consequence for breaking the law, whether that's getting pulled over and you receive a ticket or you're pulled over and given a warning, to understand the importance of traffic safety,” Chacon said.
Officials are predicting at least 123 deaths before the year ends.
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California may have been the site of innovation during Tesla's early years, but in 2021, both CEO Elon Musk and the company dug their Austin roots deeper.
With Giga Texas on the brink of production, here are some of the year's highlights for Tesla.
At the start of 2021, Tesla's newest gigafactory in southeast Travis County barely had the exterior structure of its 7.9-million-square-foot factory up after starting construction in late 2020. Now, almost a year later, the first phase is just about complete with office space and a Model Y quality control room.
Throughout the year, key updates were made. In April, Tesla filed plans for an additional building at the factory to be part of the “Bobcat Project.” And in July, Musk made a Q2 update from the factory, boasting more than $1 billion in quarterly net income and production of more than 200,000 vehicles.
Then in early October, Musk confirmed Tesla would move its headquarters from the Fremont, California factory to Austin. The move became official at the start of this month, with one analyst suggesting up to 50% of the 10,000 employees there may make the move to Austin.
But besides transplants, the factory has driven record job growth by joining a host of other companies that have promised to relocate or expand in Austin.
Additionally, Tesla added a new 30,000 square-foot showroom in South Austin that opened this fall.
Perhaps one of the most eyed product developments is the production of the Model Y at Giga Texas, with Musk seeming hopeful about demand. Musk has said the Model Y—Tesla's midsize SUV, which starts at $46,690—will be "the best selling car or truck in the world" by next year. Giga Texas is expected to start volume production in 2022.
Another anticipated product, the Cybertruck, has faced its fair share of delays. The futuristic truck, which Tesla recently removed pricing and specs for on its website, is expected to be mass-produced in 2023.
Additionally, the affordable Model 3 and Tesla Semi will be produced at the Austin factory in time.
And outside Giga Texas production, the first Tesla Solar neighborhood—dubbed the nation's most sustainable residential community—will be built in Easton Park, a master-planned community in far Southeast Austin near McKinney Falls State Park. The newly built homes will feature Tesla solar roof tiles and Powerwall battery storage as well as electric vehicle charging stations.
It also expanded its merch in Texas-style with a Giga Texas belt buckle that sold out in less than 24 hours. This year also brought news of a Tesla eatery, Tesla beer, a mega battery for the Texas grid and even the company’s interest in selling electricity.
Tesla hired thousands to build its local factory and has made big promises to recruit local residents, saying at least half of the Gigafactory hires will be Travis County residents.
Musk has since updated his plans for the factory, saying it will result in 20,000 direct jobs and 100,000 indirect jobs rather than the initial 10,000 workers that were slated for the site.
However this works out, the company is making some local investments to ensure a trained workforce. Earlier this year, Tesla kicked off a manufacturing program for Austin Community College students, aimed at helping them earn certifications with both in-class lessons and lab experience. High school students can also get their start in the EV industry, with a partnership between Tesla and Del Valle school district creating a path for gigafactory jobs.
While EV competitor Rivian made an impressive market debut with the biggest American Initial Public Offering since Facebook, Tesla’s stock also showed promise this year. In October, Tesla hit the $1 trillion market cap for the first time, after which its stock shot up to more than $1,045 a share. Shares climbed 50% this year, and in the new year, it's expected to see a 28% gain.
Time crowned Musk person of the year, noting the societal shift wrought by billionaires and their companies, with Musk as the richest (his current net worth is $266 billion). At the start of January, Musk became the richest person in the world, surpassing Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. But the two have been neck and neck for the title, and Musk reclaimed it again in September after an Amazon stock decline.
Come summer, he cracked some jokes and became the first non-entertainer or athlete to host SNL in five years. Shortly after, in the summer Musk celebrated his birthday week with flights on his private jet from Austin to Boca Chica and to San Jose.
He’s been discreet about his housing, even while public speculation has run high. Still, he’s offered crumbs of information. In the summer, he talked about his tiny home in Boca Chica, Texas, near Starbase. But last week, the Wall Street Journal published a story on his reportedly temporary dwellings in Austin. The newspaper wrote that he lived in the home of billionaire friend and former PayPal colleague Ken Howery, which Musk denied.
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- Tesla Model 3 and Model S have been recalled - austonia ›
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- Giga Texas may start production of Model Y's this week - austonia ›
- Harold Green Road officially renamed to Tesla Road - austonia ›
- Cybertruck may not start production at Giga Texas until 2023 - austonia ›
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